JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — Pope Francis' diplomatic representative to the United States hailed the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC) as a shining example of missionary discipleship and the joyful proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, gave the keynote address at the MCC's 50th anniversary celebration Oct. 7 in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City.
Six Missouri bishops and about 400 Catholic laypeople, priests and religious from all over the state attended. It was the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary. Joining Archbishop Pierre in celebrating Mass were: Archbishop Robert Carlson and Auxiliary Bishop Mark Rivituso of St. Louis, Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City, Bishop James V. Johnston, of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and Bishop Edward Rice and Bishop Emeritus John Joseph Leibrecht of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.
"For 50 years, the Missouri Catholic Conference has boldly embraced its responsibility and mission," Archbishop Pierre stated. "For that, we give thanks to God, and we ask for His assistance as you journey forward in a permanent state of mission."
Spirit at work
The daylong event included a video presentation on the history of the MCC, various workshops, lunch and Mass with the bishops. Founded in 1967, the MCC is the public policy agency of Missouri's four Roman Catholic dioceses.
Former Missouri House Speaker Kenneth Rothman once described the MCC as "the conscience of the Missouri legislature."
Archbishop Pierre began by imparting an apostolic blessing from Pope Francis upon all who attended the celebration and all who have had a hand in helping the MCC carry out its mission these past 50 years.
"Reading the history of the Missouri Catholic Conference, one cannot help but marvel at how the spirit of God has been at work in you in the defense of Catholic school students, marriage and family life, in protecting the unborn, disabled and vulnerable members of society, and in your genuine concern for the poor and migrants," he said.
He encouraged the bishops, the MCC staff and the Catholics of the state to continue evangelizing, looking to Mary as their model of discipleship.
To the ends of the earth
In light of it being the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, the archbishop gave a brief reflection on each of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate to the Church's call to discipleship and vigorous evangelization.
The Annunciation: Archbishop Pierre first noted the significance of Mary's silent acceptance to be the mother of God. "Unlike Zechariah, she did not refuse to believe, nor did she ask whether this will happen or become upset that it would happen," he noted. "Rather, she inquired how it would happen. ... Mary teaches us that everything must be surrendered to God."
The Visitation: Archbishop Pierre encouraged Missouri's Catholics to "go out" like Mary did and welcome those in need. "Mary goes against the tide," he said. "She listens to God, she reflects and seeks to understand reality and decides to entrust herself totally to God."
The Birth of Our Lord: The archbishop explained that the Christ child did not appear initially to the wealthy and the powerful but rather to those on the peripheries — the shepherds. "What are the peripheries in Missouri?" he asked. "Where does the Prince of Peace need to bring joy and light?" He encouraged the MCC to continue standing up for those who suffer not only from material poverty but spiritual poverty as well.
The Presentation of the Jesus in the Temple: Archbishop Pierre offered two dimensions for reflection on the fourth Joyful Mystery. The first is the reality that Mary is told that her heart will be pierced by a sword. Secondly, he pointed out that Mary's sorrow is juxtaposed with the joy of Simeon, who cries out to God: "My own eyes have seen the salvation which You have prepared in the sight of every people — a light to reveal You to the nations; and, the glory of Your people Israel!" The archbishop continued, "The image of a Church that goes forth in procession with candles or torches is an important one. Here, the members of the Church are carrying light into the darkness to find those who are lost and to bring them light in the darkness."
The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple: Finally, with the fifth Joyful Mystery, the archbishop explained that Jesus is found in His Father's house. "Our journey together is about gathering God's children together in the Father's house," he said. "The Church, in a permanent state of mission, is always evangelizing, trying to draw more people into the joy of being in the Father's house. ... How can our structures be more inclusive, particularly in welcoming the stranger?"